The Rest is History

A Boston couple transforms a centuries-old Nantucket cottage into a serene family retreat.

The Colonial-era home’s exterior and roof are clad with cedar-shake shingles. (All photos by Bob O’Connor)

Peter and Elizabeth Georgantas desperately needed an escape. As the owners of PEG Properties?&?Design, the couple had gotten used to working together around the clock in their Boston home. “It was difficult for us to disconnect,” says Elizabeth, an interior designer who collaborates with her husband, a developer, on residential renovation projects.

In 2008, Elizabeth, now 38, and Peter, 41, purchased the perfect family hideaway: an antique, cedar-shingle-clad Nan­tucket abode situated on a quiet lane just a couple of blocks from the center of town. As much as the Georgantases loved their new home’s secluded location, they were even more entranced by its origins. Constructed in 1739 by the Macy family — relatives of the folks who would go on to open the famed department store — the building was among the island’s first residential structures.

Over time, the two-room dwelling, originally designed as a fisherman’s shack, was expanded and embellished with architectural details (a Greek Revival–style front door, a raised roof). In 1790 — rolled on logs drawn by horses — it was moved a few miles from its original location. Eventually used as a rental property, the home was showing signs of extreme neglect when the Georgantases took ownership four years ago. The horsehair-plaster walls were crumbling, the floors were warped and scratched, and the exterior trim hadn’t seen a fresh coat of paint in decades. And when the couple began renovating in the fall, they discovered other, more-alarming issues.

“When construction started, our contractor told us the only thing holding the house together was plaster and paint,” Elizabeth recalls. “All the joists and beams had separated internally. One serious storm, and the place would have literally fallen apart.”

To create a structurally sound home, the contractor, Nantucket’s Castle Group, had to take it down to the studs and rebuild. “It was an intense process, particularly because it was very important to us that as many of the home’s original materials be reused as possible,” Elizabeth says. “Our goal was to preserve it, to reinstate its original character while making it a comfortable family home with modern conveniences.”

In keeping with the Nantucket Historic District Commission’s strict regulations, the couple maintained the house’s original footprint, save for a small addition that accommodates an enlarged kitchen and an expanded master suite above. On the building’s two main levels, the original wide-plank floors and beamed ceilings were reinstalled wherever possible. When new material was needed, reclaimed wood was used. “We had simulated horsehair-plaster work done by hand on the walls so they would have the same textured look of the original walls,” Elizabeth says.

To ensure the new elements spoke to the house’s origins, Elizabeth pored over books on Nantucket’s history, scouring them for information on the interiors of early settlers’ homes. “I wanted to know what the closets and cabinetry looked like — doors were inset, drawers were full overlay, everything was square-edged,” she says. She designed the simple, sturdy kitchen cabinets accordingly, fitting them with strap-hinge hardware.

Meanwhile, Elizabeth gave the attic a more playful look, turning it into a whimsical bedroom for the couple’s daughters, five-year-old Zoe and three-and-a-half-year-old Isabella. To create the feel of a ship’s sleeping quarters, she anchored trundle beds to the ceiling and floor with hefty nautical rope knotted by a local fisherman.

The Georgantases are about to embark on the third summer in their home, and they couldn’t be happier. “We feel like we’re in our own little corner of the world. Weeks can go by when we don’t see a soul,” Elizabeth says. While creating the perfect haven was more work than the couple imagined it would be, it was something their careers had prepared them for. “When you open up a house like we had to do, you never know what you’re going to get,” Elizabeth says.

Thankfully, the extensive renovation also resulted in a few nice surprises — like the discovery of the dining room’s original cooking hearth, which had been walled over. The restored beehive stove functions as a pizza oven. “We have pizza parties all summer long,” Elizabeth says. “It’s become our favorite thing to do.”

nantucketA view of the house from the road.

During the renovation the Georgantases had a new door — made of antique lumber — installed at the front of the house.

nantucket kitchenA La Cornue range and hood offer old-fashioned appeal.

Anchoring the kitchen is a large island, pieced together by Elizabeth, who found the reclaimed-wood legs at a shop in Maine — the top is made from thick antique lumber coated in a high-gloss lacquer.

nantucketThe same wood from the island was used to craft the custom dining room table, which is paired with Kartell’s Ghost Chairs, the sole modern furnishings in the house.

nantucketDishes and glasses are arranged in open shelves, echoing the storage style of 18th-century kitchens.

Elizabeth acquired many of the home’s furnishings and marine-inspired antique accessories for a song at the Brimfield Antique Show. Opposite, glass vessels contain shells collected by the family. Underneath an Asian console table lies an antique trunk — one of many in the home — which stores blankets for chilly evenings.

nantucketAbove, glass vessels contain shells collected by the family. Underneath an Asian console table lies an antique trunk — one of many in the home — which stores blankets for chilly evenings.

Elizabeth thought the attic, which has unusually high ceilings for an antique house, called for a swing for daughters Zoe and Isabella.

Blue accents enhance the nautical appeal of the girls’ bedroom, including the antique rope chair upholstered in Duralee fabric.

nantucketAbove, in the new master bedroom closet, a window seat, upholstered in a slate-blue cable stripe by Greeff, provides
a pretty perch.

The Nantucket Historic District Commission allowed the family to replace a decrepit lean-to gardening shed with a garage that has guest quarters above and space for a gym below.